Welcome to our new web site!

To give our readers a chance to experience all that our new website has to offer, we have made all content freely avaiable, through October 1, 2018.

During this time, print and digital subscribers will not need to log in to view our stories or e-editions.


Aid-in-dying bill clears House committee


Editor’s note: The Bulletin is a member of the Southern New Mexico Journalism Collaborative and will devote one news page each week to the 2021 New Mexico Legislature. Find more content about legislative matters on our website, www.lascrucesbuletin.com.

A bill that would allow health care providers to give aid in dying to terminally ill patients passed the New Mexico House Health and Human Services Committee after an emotional three-hour debate Friday, Jan. 29, in which legislators discussed their own personal stories of caring for friends and family in their final days.

House Bill 47 is named for Elizabeth Whitfield, a former district court judge who suffered through a lengthy battle with cancer over many years. She went to the Legislature in 2017 advocating for legislation allowing for aid in dying, but died last year, before seeing that bill passed into law.

The new bill would require two different health care providers to confirm that the patient’s condition is terminal, and s/he is expected to die within six months. Only one confirmation would be needed for patients already in hospice care, where the six-month certification is already a requirement.

Health care providers would also have to certify that the patient is mentally competent and was making the decision without coercion. For patients with mental illness, an additional certification would be needed from a mental health professional.

Patients would be provided with a lethal prescription. It would then be up to the patient if and when to take it. Bill sponsor Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, said patients usually slip into a coma right away and then die a short time later.

The cause of death on official documents would be listed as the underlying condition, not suicide.

Committee members Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, and Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, both talked emotionally about helping loved ones through their final days. For Thomson, it was a best friend dying from cancer. For Gail Armstrong, it was her mother, who she said died “a miserable death.”

Republicans on the committee objected to a provision in the bill that requires health care workers who do not want to participate in assisted dying to refer patients to another provider. Debbie Armstrong argued that it specifically states that those providers could not be held liable in either a criminal or civil court, but opponents of the bill said they could face professional discipline from the state medical board.

There were also concerns raised about a lack of specific training for physicians and the adequacy of protections against coercion.

The bill passed on a party-line vote and now moves to the House Judiciary Committee. A similar bill in 2019 died without getting a vote in the House.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com

2021 New Mexico Legislature, Walt Rubel